Rome is the only ancient civilisation to have left us a cookery book. These recipes are attributed to Apicus, a food lover who lived in the first century BC. The editions that have survived are from the third century AD, but these are the types of recipes that people in Pompeii would have eaten.
Lots of Roman recipes used wine for flavouring, but don’t worry, the alcohol evaporates when it’s boiled.
Have a go making them at home!
Mushrooms stewed with coriander & red wine
Serve with bread as a starter, or as a salad with a main course.
2 ½ cups of red wine
500gm button mushrooms
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons of fresh coriander, chopped
- Put the wine in a pan, bring it to the boil and boil briskly until it is reduced to 2 cups.
- Wipe the mushrooms and remove the stalks.
- Add the mushrooms to the wine with a pinch of salt and a generous grind of pepper. Bring the wine back to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Add the fresh coriander and adjust the seasoning to taste immediately before serving.
- Allow to cool to either room temperature or eat them warm.
Beets with leek & coriander
Serve hot as a side dish, or cold as a salad.
1kg of fresh young beetroot, scrubbed & thickly sliced
450g of trimmed leeks, thickly sliced
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of fresh coriander, chopped
2 ½ cups of sweet white wine OR dry white wine flavoured with 1 tablespoon of honey
Salt and pepper
- Put the leeks, beetroot, and cumin in a heavy-bottomed pan.
- Add the wine (or wine and honey), bring to the boil, and simmer approximately 30 minutes until the beetroot are tender.
- Add the coriander.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve either hot or cold.
Baked cabbage with cracked wheat & pine nuts
Serve as a vegetarian main, or as a side dish.
450g cabbage, finely sliced
1 onion, finely sliced
150ml of vegetable or chicken stock
Salt and pepper
100gm cracked wheat (tabbuleh)
½ cup of white wine
1 cup boiling water
50gm pine nuts
- Cook the onion gently in the butter until it is transparent.
- Add the cabbage, mix the onion in well, and then add the stock and a little seasoning. Cover the pan and simmer gently until the cabbage is cooked but still slightly crunchy (about 15 minutes).
- While the cabbage is boiling, put the cracked wheat into a bowl and pour on the boiling water, followed by the wine. When the wheat has swelled and absorbed all the liquid, stir in the pine nuts and raisins.
- Transfer the onion into an oven-proof dish. Spread the cracked wheat mixture over the cabbage and dot the top with butter.
- Cook in a pre-heated oven at 180°C for 20 minutes, and serve immediately.
A dish of baked pears
Black pepper is still used in France and Europe as a contrast to the flavour of fresh fruit.
3 large OR 6 small ripe pears, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced
3 grinds fresh black pepper
2 generous pinches ground cumin
1 tablespoon of honey
¼ cup sweet white wine
2 free-range eggs
- Place the pear slices, the pepper, the cumin, the honey and the wine in a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer gently until the pears are cooked, but still slightly crunchy (10–15 minutes).
- Remove the pears from the cooking liquid and dry them on kitchen paper. Then lay the pears in a shallow, oven-proof dish.
- Beat the eggs with a fork, then add the slightly cooled cooking liquid from the pears. Pour the mixture over the pears in the dish and bake in an oven pre-heated to 160°C for around 20 minutes, or until the custard is set.
- Serve the pears warm or cold with cream or yoghurt.
These recipes are drawn from The British Museum Cookbook by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson (British Museum Press, 1997)
The British Museum's website